Since Microsoft relaunched its MCSA and MCSE credential with a cloud-oriented MCSE, we've seen Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 hit the market. But is the new Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) the right credential?

I can point to two good reasons why those who are chasing Windows

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certification on Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 -- currently in widespread use from small businesses to the enterprise, and likely to stay that way for at least another two years -- should proceed with MCSA in mind.

For more IT professionals, the cert upgrade is not really a matter of if they will do it; it's really a matter of when it makes sense to do so.

First, Microsoft's previous batch cert credentials on these platforms will decline in number greatly on July 31, 2013 (see the exam retirements list in Microsoft's Learning pages to see what I mean; pay special attention to the Windows Server category entry). Except for the exams that tie into the new MCSA credentials discussed below, many of these exams will no longer be available. In fact, I believe the Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist (MCTS) and Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) credentials on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 are likely to become more or less defunct by the end of 2013 or so, along with a great many MCTS and MCITP credentials on other, older Microsoft tools and platforms.

Second, after the MCSA and MCSE were launched, Microsoft has backtracked to offer MCSA credentials for both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008. Furthermore, it recognizes these credentials as eligible for a single-exam upgrade path to move up to Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 credentials, respectively, when the time comes for IT operations -- and the professionals who care for them -- to migrate to the latest and greatest Microsoft desktop and server operating systems. Though less controversial than Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 offers lots of interesting new features that business and organizations are likely to find compelling enough to make the upgrade sooner or later. So for more IT professionals, the cert upgrade is not really a matter of if they will do it; it's really a matter of when it makes sense to do so.

Earning the MCSA: Windows 7 credential requires passing three exams:

  • 70-680, Configuring Windows 7
  • 70-685, Windows 7 Enterprise Desktop Support Technician
  • 70-686, Windows 7 Enterprise Desktop Administrator

Here's some interesting language from the homepage for this cert: "Until January 31, 2014, when you earn your MCSA: Windows 7 certification you will also earn your … MCTS: Windows 7, Configuration and either your MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator (exams 680 and 686) or MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician (exams 680 and 685)."

Keeping pace with Windows certifications, platforms

Here's a thorough rundown of what to know about Windows Server 2012

Microsoft bets big on the Windows 8 OS

Cloud brings sweeping changes to Microsoft certifications

A single-exam study guide for MSCA Windows Server 2012 has arrived

How important are technology degrees and certifications

The MCITP list page indicates that the Windows Client MCITP credentials will all retire on July 31, 2013, but there's no such word on MCTS credentials. My best guess is that they'll be withdrawn sometime between July 31, 2013, and Jan. 31, 2014. One more benefit to this MCSA is that it qualifies for a single-exam upgrade (70-689) to MCSA: Windows 8 (but so do the just-mentioned MCITP credentials it replaces).

Earning the MCSA: Windows Server 2008 also requires passing three exams:

  • 70-640, Windows Server 2008 Active Directory Configuring
  • 70-642, Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure Configuring
  • 70-646, Windows Server 2008 Server Administrator

These exams are identical to those required to earn the MCITP: Server Administrator on Windows Server 2008. The MCITP list page also indicates that the various Windows Server MCITP credentials currently available will be withdrawn after July 30, 2013. For Windows Server 2008 related MCTS credentials, my guess remains the same: that they'll be withdrawn between July 31, 2013, and January 31, 2014. And, again, like the Windows 7 stuff, the MCSA: Windows Server 2008 also qualifies for a single-exam upgrade (70-417) to MCSA: Windows Server 2012.

As long as the Windows certification exams you're working on also apply to the new MCSA credentials, keep at them. If they don't, you may want to reconsider your plan. And whatever you do going forward, if you pursue the relevant MCSA on Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008, you can count on an easier upgrade path to Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 when the time comes to tackle those new platforms.

Ed Tittel is a regular contributor to and blogger for numerous TechTarget websites, and specializes in Windows operating systems and IT certification, among other topics. He's probably best known for creating the Exam Cram series of prep books in the late 1990s. Check out Ed's website, or visit his IT Career JumpStart or Windows Enterprise Desktop blogs.

This was first published in December 2012

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